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Pictured, at the podium: Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt with legislative colleagues and law enforcement. (Submitted photo)
Pictured, at the podium: Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt with legislative colleagues and law enforcement. (Submitted photo)

State leaders debate criminal justice policies

Submitted Press Releases

Tue, Mar 29th 2022 10:10 am

Senate, Assembly GOP & law enforcement officials call for criminal justice changes

Hochul, Benjamin: Blaming bail reform for increase in violence that cities across America are facing isn't fair, isn't supported by data

New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, law enforcement officials and members of the Assembly and Senate Republican conferences on Monday called on Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders to reverse what they call “failed criminal justice policies” and “strengthen public protection” in the 2022-23 state budget.

Ortt said, “For the past three years, New Yorkers have seen the disastrous effects of one-party rule on their safety and well-being. Violent crime rates are up, security in neighborhoods is down. It’s time for Albany leaders to admit what we all know: Their record on public safety has been an abysmal failure, and they must decisively change course in this year’s state budget. That means no more criminal coddling. Supporting law enforcement. Repealing bail reform, making Kendra’s Law permanent, and fixing New York’s discovery laws. Let’s restore public safety to our state.”

Monday’s calls by elected officials and law enforcement build upon the Senate Republican plan to “Restore Public Safety in New York,” unveiled as part of the “Take Back New York” agenda earlier this year. Per Ortt’s team, the plan involves:

•Protecting Those Who Protect Us

√ Invest in law enforcement;

√ Provide them with the support they need to make communities safe and serve those in need; and

√ Fight Democrat efforts to demonize and “Defund the Police.”

•Rejecting Dangerous “Reforms” like Cashless Bail

√ End cashless bail, restore judicial discretion, and reject dangerous Democrat proposals to erase entire criminal databases;

√ Require state agencies to be transparent about the effects of public safety policies; and

√ Fix unworking discovery and “speedy trial” laws that have turned the justice system into a revolving door for repeat and violent offenders.

•Reforming the Broken Parole System

√ Recenter the parole process on the protection and rights of crime victims and their families;

√ Ensure that cop-killers, serial killers, child killers, and other dangerous murderers can never be released; and

√ Reject dangerous Democrat proposals to weaken the parole system.

•Passing a Victims’ Justice Agenda

√ Strengthen penalties for violent and repeat offenders, as well as hate crimes;

√ Invest in proven mental health, addiction, homeless, and victims’ programs and services; and

√ Make Kendra’s Law permanent, to ensure those struggling with mental illness get the help they need.

“Bail reform has been a complete and utter failure – one that has made our communities less safe and the job of law enforcement more dangerous,” said New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo. “The law was so poorly crafted it has already been revised once; and state leaders, in an election year, are saying they want to make more changes, because of the fallout from this disastrous policy. Bail reform needs to be fully repealed. If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are truly interested in creating a more fair and equitable justice system that keeps New Yorkers safe, then they need to work with law enforcement, correction officers, judges, district attorney's and other stakeholders to enact real solutions.”

State Sen. Daphne Jordan said, “Since 2020, when so-called bail and discovery ‘reforms’ became law, crime rates have skyrocketed across the state. From 2019 to 2020, the murder rate increased by almost 50%, while gun crime outside of New York City increased by nearly 30%. Cashless bail has been an unmitigated disaster and must be repealed. These soft-on-crime policies resulted in 3,460 offenders arrested and released to commit violent felonies while awaiting trial. That’s 3,460 crimes that could have been prevented if judges had full discretion to set bail. Reversing failed criminal justice policies and strengthening public protection must be job No. 1 to ensure the safety and security of all New Yorkers.”

Barclay said, “Public safety in New York state has plummeted to an unsustainable level. That deterioration directly correlates with the pro-criminal mentality that has seeped into Albany policymaking. We stand here today calling on our colleagues across the aisle, and Gov. Hochul, to finally fix what they have broken. I am pleased to see there has been interest in walking back some of these policies, but there is still much work to do. As we approach the deadline to pass the next state budget, I sincerely hope that progress manifests to state law.”

Washington County District Attorney J. Anthony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said, “The transformative changes from the 2019 budget are not working as intended. We are not saying we need to completely undo these laws, but we do need to find ways to fix them. And we must do it now, which means this budget cycle. We all know that some unintended consequences of our current bail, discovery and Raise the Age laws have allowed dangerous criminals to take advantage of those new laws and has contributed to an uptick in violent crimes and crimes against property, all leading to a loss of a sense of safety and security in our communities. If courts cannot consider the reality that certain defendants pose a risk to public safety, then courts are not serving public justice or public safety. A sensible balance between the rights of defendants and public safety is possible. Like all new laws, adjustments prudently need to be made to ensure the intended outcome.”

Kevin Mulverhill, Franklin County sheriff and first vice president of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said, “Sheriffs have been stalwart in their opinion on bail reform. The original bail reform initiative, while well-intentioned, was a drastic overcorrection, and for the past several years we have been dealing with the fallout. It is past time that New York joins nearly every other state in the nation, as well as the federal judiciary, in allowing judges to consider a defendant’s risk to public safety when considering bail or remand. Sheriffs believe this simple change will alleviate many of the problems we are seeing today.”

Assemblyman Mike Reilly said, “As a former lieutenant with the New York City Police Department, I know firsthand of the harm that the soft-on-crime policies developed by an out-of-touch political class can have on the safety of our citizens and the vitality of our economy. I remember New York City during its darkest days, when crime was rampant and unchecked. The bottom line is that, until we get serious about addressing the out-of-control crime that has gripped our state, there will be no great New York comeback.”

Ortt’s team said, “In 2019, Democrats in Albany drastically overhauled New York’s criminal justice system. Those changes greatly diminished the public’s safety and enabled career criminals to enjoy wide latitude to operate in New York. As such, the Republican conferences are calling for a substantial rollback of those policies, including increased judicial discretion in setting bail and changes to parole procedures.

“After New York City Mayor Eric Adams, law enforcement officials and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the wrong-headed liberal policies currently in place; reports indicate there may be an inclination to include changes in the budget.”

Hochul’s Position

Last week, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin on the importance of targeted changes to our laws to strengthen public safety.

They wrote:

In 2019, the State Legislature enacted landmark reforms to our bail laws. The goal of these changes was to overhaul a system where race and access to money all too often determined whether defendants would be locked up before facing trial. These disparate outcomes, which disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities, were not only fundamentally unjust, but undermined trust in our criminal justice system.

The reforms were successful: Fewer New Yorkers are kept behind bars just because they can't pay, and we've saved taxpayer dollars in the process.

Still, since the law was passed, we have seen a distressing increase in shootings and homicides. The data does not, however, suggest that bail reform is the main cause: In New York City, the percentage of people who are arraigned and released for gun crimes who go on to be rearrested has barely changed since bail reform took effect, from 25% before bail reform to 27%, according to an analysis from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Outside of New York City, that percentage went from 20% to 22%.

Similarly, the percentage of shooting arrests in New York City where the defendant had an open felony charge has hovered around 25% for years, though it crept up from 24% in 2019 to 28% in 2021, according to NYPD data.

Blaming bail reform for the increase in violence that cities across America are facing isn't fair and isn't supported by the data. Doing so risks distracting us from what are likely far more significant factors: upheaval from the pandemic, the availability of illegal guns, increased gang activity, lower arrest rates and a backed-up court system, to name a few.

But that doesn't mean the bail law as it currently stands is perfect, either. When one out of four people arrested for gun crimes goes on to be re-arrested, we haven't done enough. These repeat offender rates were a failure before bail reform, and they remain a failure today.

We are committed to protecting the progress we've made toward a fairer criminal justice system. But that is not at odds with making thoughtful, measured changes to our laws that would strengthen public safety.

First, we need to address the problem of repeat offenders. If someone is committing a second or third offense while out on pretrial release, officers should be able to make an arrest and not be limited, as they are in many cases, to issuing a "desk appearance ticket." Similarly, hate crimes should be subject to arrest, not desk appearance tickets. And for repeat offenders, judges should be allowed to set bail – even if the crime would not currently be bail-eligible.

Second, we should make it possible for judges to set bail in all felony cases involving illegal guns, including when illegal guns are sold or given to minors – a crime that is, astonishingly, not currently bail-eligible.

Finally, for violent crimes and crimes involving guns, we should make it possible for judges to set more restrictive pretrial conditions, based on concrete criteria. Right now, all decisions about bail and pretrial detention must be based solely on the "least restrictive" conditions necessary to ensure the defendant returns to court. In domestic violence cases, the Legislature already gave judges more factors to consider (such as whether the defendant has a history of firearm use or previously violated an order of protection).

This is not a subjective "dangerousness" standard – decisions must be based on specific, factual circumstances. We should apply this model, based on what's already in the law for domestic violence, to other serious crimes.

These changes will improve our laws, but they won't suddenly reverse the rise in violence. That will require a holistic approach. We are already stepping up our efforts to stop the flow of illegal guns, support community-based violence interruption, and increase resources for local law enforcement. And we'll keep investing in solutions that work.

Another key piece of the equation is mental health. We propose changes to the law to better enable licensed mental health professionals to collaborate with crisis intervention teams and police. Along the same lines, we need to strengthen Kendra's Law to make it easier for judges to require individuals who are struggling with serious mental illness and present a danger to themselves or others to participate in mandatory outpatient treatment. Along with these proposals, we should provide additional resources for more psychiatric beds in community-based hospitals and housing, so that no one is turned away when they need help.

We should also make it easier for people who have served their time to reenter society successfully. That's why we are proud to have enacted "Less Is More" legislation, so that individuals are not imprisoned for technical parole violations, and why we have proposed allowing people behind bars to participate in the state's tuition assistance program, so that they can come out of prison with more education and skills than when they went in.

Taken together, these changes will continue the work of improving our laws, policies and practices to make our state a fairer and safer place – exactly what that the Legislature endeavored to do in 2019 and what we pledge to keep working with them on.

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